Nearly 200 homeless Calgarians have died on city streets with no permanent roof over their heads.
The Longest Night of the Year, held on Tuesday, commemorated those lost. It was held at the city’s new permanent memorial for the homeless.
Nigel Kirk, one of the organizers for the Longest Night of the Year, said that it is important to hold a yearly memorial service.
“We don’t really get an opportunity to grieve, we don’t get to go to funerals, and sometimes we don’t get to go to memorials that shelters might hold,” he said.
The service was the seventh in the city’s history.
Putting work before grief
Kirk said that one of the barriers for the homeless community gathering at memorials was work.
“The shocking fact is that over half the homeless population in Calgary does work at least part-time, whether it be at a temp agency or a regularly scheduled job,” he said.
“Many do actually work full time and therefore can’t attend things like memorial services and funerals.”
This year, the memorial was live-streamed to shelters, and for the public. Providing that accessibility was key for the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
“I think it’s important for us to honor that, and just provide accessibility to events like this, to showcase that there are people that really cared deeply about the issue, and they really cared deeply about them,” said Matt Nomura, vice president for the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Permanent memorial makes this year special
The new permanent memorial to homeless Calgarians was unveiled in October of this year. Kirk, as part of the Calgary Homeless Foundation client action committee, worked for over seven years to make the memorial a reality.
He said that having the permanent memorial made the Longest Night of the Year extra special this year.
“I think this helps add to the symbolism,” he said.
He pointed out how close the memorial is to the Canadian Mental Health Association, and various youth and adult shelters.
“Even outside the memorial, this is a place where we want people to be able to come and find sanctuary,” he said.
“I hope we continue to do our services here so long as it never becomes a disturbance for the homeless community.”
The 13 Avenue SE location has charging stations for phones, a bench that can be slept on, and art for reflection.
The names of the 192 Calgarians lost can be found on the Longest Night of the Year website.